The world’s biggest Buddha statue, Asia’s biggest Buddha statue, South East Asia’s biggest Buddha statue… no one would ever imagine that even holy statues would fight for popularity!
Well, that’s because they do not. Building a big statue is not to show off but to plant the seeds of enlightenment in sentient beings’ mindstreams and to touch as many lives as possible.
This is exactly what Kechara House (KH) hopes to do at the launch of their new gompa on 27 November 2010.
KH is a Buddhist Centre founded in 2000 by H.E. Tsem Rinpoche of Gaden Shartse Monastery. Belonging to the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism, KH embraces teachings passed down in an unbroken lineage from Buddha Shakyamuni (624-540 BC) to Atisha (982-1054), and then to Je Tsongkhapa (1357-1419).
Kechara House is about to launch its new gompa, within which is enshrined a 12-foot Lama Tsongkhapa statue, a 8-foot Vajrayogini statue and 8-foot Setrap statue.
As the founder of the Gelug tradition, Lama Tsongkhapa is Kechara House’s main yidam (meditational deity) and the Guru Yoga of Lama Tsongkhapa is the main practice of Kechara House.
Vajrayogini is a representation of complete Buddhahood in female form; the practice of Vajrayogini is only for the very fortunate and, if practised correctly, can lead to Buddhahood in this very lifetime.
Lord Setrap is the wrathful emanation of Buddha Amitabha. Fierce yet compassionate, Setrap is the protector for Gaden Monastery, which Kechara House is affiliated with. Setrap is extremely effective in clearing our worldly and spiritual obstacles.
These three deities will find a home in the new Kechara House gompa, and will be the three biggest Tibetan Buddhist statues in Malaysia. Most importantly however, from the design to the installation, from the painting to the touching-up, from the altar-making to the mantra-filling and insertion of holy items, all three statues are there as a result of local talents. They are all home-made statues with the correct iconography, to benefit countless sentient beings now and future.
It is a common misconception that Buddhists pray to idols.
“The bigger the statue, the deeper the imprint it will have. It can plant more seeds,” explained Mr Paul Yap, who heads Kechara Discovery (the department that made the statues) and Kechara Saraswati Arts (the department that filled and painted the statues).
A big Buddha statue will have positive impact on the environment it is enshrined in, for all beings including insects and animals, and not just humans. Because the statues are bigger, and are filled with more holy items, the merits accumulated from making offerings in front of the statue will be bigger as well.
Paul said he only learned how to make Buddha statues with the correct iconography after he began leading Kechara Discovery a few years ago. He started out by making small statues, moving slowly to the bigger statues, and all of his learning came directly from Rinpoche.
It was from Rinpoche that Paul learned about the benefits of Buddha statues, for example stabilising energies in the surrounding environment. He cites the Tian Tan Buddha on Lantau Island in Hong Kong as such an example. Tian Tan Big Buddha is a 24-metre tall bronze statue of a Buddha.
The Leshan Giant Buddha, which has been carved out of a cliff face, is another good example. The statue, located near the city of Leshan in China, calms the turbulent waters that used to plague shipping vessels travelling down the river.
Even though the statue is enshrined inside a temple, the impact can pass through walls, blessing all beings including humans and animals, and even flies in the area. Therefore the statues in our gompa are not built just for Kechara and Kechara members, but for everyone in the SunwayMas, Petaling Jaya and nearby areas.
The idea for such large statues came about during a Liaisons Council meeting when Rinpoche was present. Since the new gompa was being built to accommodate more people, Rinpoche felt it would only be auspicious and appropriate to invite as large a statue as Kechara possibly could.
Even though the challenge of making the statues with today’s technology was not as big as building the Leshan Buddha, the challenge was still not small and time was of the essence.
“There were so many challenges, so many which we could not even have anticipated,” said Paul, who was wholly in charge of the statue – from design and commission to transport and installation. “Just getting the statue transported to the site of the new gompa was a great challenge,” he said, let alone the challenges he faced in making the statues.
I had to complete the statues on time. I had only five months to complete three of them…and usually, one 18cm statue takes three to four months to finish!
“Even the day before we planned to transport the statues, the craftsmen were still rushing. On the day we planned to transport the statues, it rained the whole morning. We packed and moved the statues onto the truck in the rain,” Paul recalled.
Transportation was a big issue, especially since the workers were transporting giant pieces of art.
The challenge did not end after the statues arrived in Kuala Lumpur. Damage to the statues and missing accessories is part and parcel of shipping statues, no matter how small the statue. This was the same case with the gompa‘s large statues, and Paul had to re-order and re-produce parts to be transported by air to Kuala Lumpur.
Of the five months taken for the statues to be produced and actually arrive in Kuala Lumpur, Paul spent three of those months in the statue-making factory. Whilst monitoring the production process, he suffered from skin problems, fell sick, and faced many other personal obstacles.
“It’s normal to face many obstacles when we are doing something which will benefit many.”
“It’s normal to face many obstacles when we are doing something which will benefit many. We face the obstacles on behalf of ourselves and others. Rinpoche faces similar obstacles as well, for us. What is most important though, is that we face obstacles with an open heart and peace of mind. It is an opportunity for us to purify our karma.”
When it came to selecting a production facility, Paul was prudent and careful. He chose only a factory with a good reputation, one that was willing to accommodate his requirements and needs.
“Even though the craftsmen were not so good in producing Buddha statues, they were very familiar with the material we used, red copper,” adding that they were willing to communicate with him as well.
Paul stressed that it was Rinpoche who gave him the knowledge necessary for making a good statue, including the iconography, the mudra (hand gesture) and so on. He then explained these instructions to the craftsmen as tirelessly as Rinpoche had to him.
No one man show
After completing the statues, more work took place to adorn and fill the 10-foot Lama Tsongkhapa, 7-foot Vajrayogini and 7-foot Setrap statues with mantras and holy images. This touching-up, paint work, insertion of mantras and beading work was led by Kechara Saraswati Arts (KSA).
Volunteers at KSA spent countless hours rolling mantras, packing and sewing pot pourri for the beautiful statues. The statues were then filled with holy relics, Dharma texts, smaller statues, holy images, rolled mantras, pot pourri, pendants, khatas and many other things.
Paul is not someone whom you would think would get involved in the arts and Buddha statues. With his accounting background, it amazes some people how much he loves his job of producing Buddha statue and pendants, and how much he excels in it.
With his diligent and committed staff in KSA and KD, Paul was not too worried about completing the mantra-rolling, sewing and beading work of Vajrayogini’s beautiful skirt before the new gompa opening. Of course, Paul is good in managing human resources, with his working experience before joining Kechara helping him a lot.
It was Pat Ng who designed and made Vajrayogini’s skirt, thanks to the help of volunteers and colleagues like KSA’s administrator Becky Yap. Because Pat and her volunteers worked so hard, Kechara’s members are now able to offer a beautiful skirt to this highest yoga tantra yidam.
Choi Sheem, responsible for the mantra-rolling, expressed her excitement at taking up the challenge to lead her team. Since KSA always stocks up on their mantras, the problem of mantra shortage was almost non-existent. However, there were still worries that there would not be enough to fill the three large statues, since the team had never had to fill such large statues before.
The privilege of painting the Buddhas’ features was for Lili Ng. It is not an easy task painting Buddhas’ features, and Lili was in charge of painting Tsongkhapa’s serene meditative expression, ready to inspire peace to whoever lays eyes on him. Staff like Louise Lee and Yvonne Yap from KD were on hand to play their part as well.
May the statues and the hard work of volunteers and staff create the causes for larger statues to manifest, to bless Malaysians and the Malaysian government with peace, harmony and stability. We hope that with the completion of Kechara’s new gompa, the teachings of Lama Tsongkhapa will spread in ten directions, to benefit countless beings now and future.